It’s been 10 years since the once obscure Working Families Party launched in Connecticut, and after helping get the first-in-the-nation paid sick days bill passed its founding executive director is leaving for the national stage.
Jon Green, 38, who started the Connecticut chapter in 2002, is leaving next month to help create similar organizations in other states for the national Working Families Party.
And while getting the paid sick days legislation passed in Connecticut may have received the most headlines, it‘s not the one Green touts as his proudest accomplishment.
“There are certainly things we’ve done that I’m proud of, but the one I value the most is building an organization to help change the political landscape in the state,” Green said Friday in an interview.
The Working Families Party, which receives support from several labor organizations, looks to cross-endorse candidates who share their vision for social and economic justice. That cross endorsement earns a candidate a second spot on the general election ballot, and door knocking help from the third party’s volunteers.
It made the difference in several races across the state, including Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s election in 2010 where the 26,308 votes on the WFP line, helped contribute to his 6,404 vote victory over Republican Tom Foley.
In 2008, the Working Families Party ballot line received 83,000 votes statewide. U.S. Rep. Jim Himes alone received 9,130 of those votes, which helped contribute to his margin of victory over former U.S. Rep. Chris Shays. And in 2006, the almost 5,794 votes U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy received on the WFP line helped contribute to his victory over former U.S. Rep. Nancy Johnson.
Murphy‘s 2006 campaign helped launch it from “an obscure organization to a fairly serious player,” Green said.
In an interview Sunday, Murphy said the Working Families Party endorsement gave his campaign legitimacy. He said with the two major party’s so divided voters don’t necessarily believe either, so having a third party endorse him lent “early legitimacy to my race.”
In 2006, Murphy said his campaign was outspent by Johnson three to one so having a third party that had already had some success in New York helped.
“These days voters are looking to hear from someone other than the candidates,” Murphy said. “They offered verification.”
The Working Families Party has focused on Congressional and gubernatorial candidates. It has not elected anyone to the General Assembly, but its candidates have received more than 1 percent of the vote in many statewide elections, allowing the party to endorse candidates of the two major parties. Aside from its statewide success, it has also been successful in electing members of the party to local office, including winning seats on the Hartford City Council.
But the credibility of the third party was something Green had to earn when he arrived in Connecticut after a few years as a community organizer in Chicago.
Kurt Westby, area director with 32BJ an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union and co-chair of the Connecticut Working Families, said he sat back and watched for several years before getting involved with an “upstart party.”
But he said Green proved he could successfully move the “people’s agenda forward.”
In the early days some of that agenda was focused on health care reform , and local living wage laws.
“One thing he did well was build an organization,” Westby said. “Now, that organization needs him less and less, as it’s capable of functioning on its own.”
The organization will be searching for a replacement for Green over the next few weeks. Westby said they have a “deep bench,” but “people like Jon don’t come around too often.”
At the national party, Green will continue to play a role in the Connecticut organization, but won’t be involved in the day-to-day operations.
“I’m not totally gone from the picture, but if CBIA [Connecticut Business and Industry Association] wants to have a going away party I’m game,” Green joked.
Green butted heads with the Connecticut Business and Industry Association over the issue of paid sick days for years leading up to its passage last year.
Green’s own lobbying efforts on the issue earned him a $10,000 fine from the Office of State Ethics a few months ago because he failed to pick up his lobbyist badge to finish his registration. The fine has been paid.
Meanwhile, Green’s departure comes at the same time as the conservative Koch brothers group, Americans for Prosperity, opened up a Connecticut chapter.
“I think they’ll find this isn’t fertile ground,” Green said. But even if they do, “it’s comforting to recognize that it takes an enormous amount of money to convince people bad ideas are good ideas.”